Hart on Egypt

February 7th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Emma Hart writes at Public Address:

So it turns out the longer I’m home from , the harder it is to write about. Everything I was going to say becomes hedged around with caveats. I kept telling people how lucky we were, seeing it the way we did, but was it luck? We made a conscious, and on my part pretty much agonised-over, decision, and that was the payoff. No, we didn’t get shot, but I’m not sure that was any more of a risk than it would be anywhere else at any other time. 

I’m going to write about the politics elsewhere, so I don’t want to get into that too much. I will say, though, that I had to rethink a lot of things once I was actually there, and get a bit embarrassed re: Western paternalism. I will say that if your view is basically “Democracy = Good, Army = Bad”, you need to understand that, very broadly, the grassroots democracy movement supports the army and sees it as an ally. There’s an Egyptian pop song thanking the army for coming to the aid of the people against Morsi. 

Hart says it is complicated, and it is.  One can only hope that eventually they manage to have a democratic government that doesn’t want to turn Egypt into an Islamist state.

The down side was the touts. So many people in Egypt are dependent on selling tat to tourists in order to survive. Middle-Eastern sales tactics can be intimidating to Westerners at the best of times. At the tourist sites in Egypt, and the souk in Luxor, it was off the wall. 

I was there in 2009 and found the touts more aggressive in Egypt than anywhere else I’ve been, except Zimbabwe.

It was interesting to note who coped with this better. For men who’ve never been able to understand why women get upset about street harassment, I heartily recommend a visit to an Egyptian tourist market. See how long you can handle, “Hello! Good morning! Where you from? Welcome to Egypt! What’s your name? Smile!” from men who will not leave you alone. The women coped better because we already knew not to engage, to keep our heads down and not make eye contact, to stick together and walk briskly. Yes, they’re being “nice”. Because they want something.

Sadly I have come to hate a stranger coming up to me, when I am overseas, and saying “Where are you from?” as it is inevitably just a foray into trying to get you to part with some money. Egypt is especially bad and they follow you down the street.

Despite all that I’d love to go back one day when it is safer.

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21 Responses to “Hart on Egypt”

  1. mudrunner (88 comments) says:

    Excellent comment from Emma.

    Attempts to impose democracy on so many countries by the west has had and continues to have appalling consequences.

    So the west moves in, destabilises the country then move out leaving a vacuum that gets filled by something worse. At the very best it is not democracy as we imagine it to be and the worst…

    Is imposed democracy better for Russia, Yugoslavia, Iraq, Palestine, Libya, Egypt, Afganistan and so on and on? And don’t try to go into the rest of Africa.

    We never get to see the sensible (?) body count pre, during and post democratisation. Let alone similar analysis for economic, religious, societal impacts.

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  2. igm (1,413 comments) says:

    Do what they like, but don’t come here imposing their evil religion, customs, and culture.

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  3. Nigel Kearney (864 comments) says:

    Democracy is a collection of things, of which the elections of leaders is just one. So a country doesn’t become a democracy simply by electing a leader. At best, an election shifts power to the entire population and the media, and depending on the culture and education of the population and the independence of the media, this may well make things worse. But that is not necessarily a failure of democracy.

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  4. Simon (686 comments) says:

    Egypt is a failed country. A powerful State always hurts wider society. In some countries like NZ the State can be contained so the damage can be some what limited and in some countries the size of the State simply overwhelms society which leads to breakdown.

    The difference between NZ and Egypt is enough people in NZ know the State must be contained and too many in Egypt in ignorance support the State.

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  5. tkh075 (2 comments) says:

    Surprised you found Zimbabwe such an aggressive place for touts.

    After living and traveling through Southern and East Africa for years, and visiting Morocco, I’ve found touts and hawkers there to be far easier to deal with than South-east Asian ones.

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  6. Neil (556 comments) says:

    Egypt is one of the strangest countries I have visited- 56 worldwide. I didn’t like the pushy nature of the touts,especially at the pyramids trying to get me to ride the camels there.
    On the same trip I visited Iran and found the religion and touts much more low key. Iran has much potential which I believe will come sooner rather than later
    Egypt is going to have lots of government trouble because the secularists and christians are evenly balanced with the Islamists.
    Turkey is one of the most concerning nations with the current Erdogan government trying to islamize the country slowly.
    There is a day of reckoning coming

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  7. Scott (1,710 comments) says:

    Sadly I don’t think democracy is going to be viable for some time in Egypt. As they have found you can bring in democracy, have democratic elections and the majority of the people, whose organising principle is Islam, will elect an Islamist theocratic government that will immediately abolish democracy.

    So I think the best that we can hope for is that the Army will restore order and prevent an Islamist government from taking power. I think the Western democracies should support Egypt as much as possible. But we should not destabilise the government run by the army as the alternative is much worse, for both the Egyptian people and for our own interests.

    I particularly hope that the Army can restore order and the rule of law so that the Coptic church can go on about its business in safety. The millions of Coptic Christians faced persecution and harassment and violence and even death under the previous regime. So the Army should do all it can to protect the lives and property of persecuted religious minorities.

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  8. Kea (11,878 comments) says:

    A typically poorly informed and ignorant comment from Snott.

    Morsi was part of the Muslim Brotherhood. The recent uprising, supported by the military, was from moderate Muslims who opposed the extreme direction Morsi was taking the country. Morsi was installed with the help of the worlds biggest Christian country.

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  9. kowtow (7,650 comments) says:

    uh oh ,the troll’s arrived.

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  10. nasska (10,689 comments) says:

    It’s not often that I have a chance to agree with “Scott” but in this he is spot on….

    ….”you can bring in democracy, have democratic elections and the majority of the people, whose organising principle is Islam, will elect an Islamist theocratic government that will immediately abolish democracy.”….

    Egyptian citizens have a better chance of living normal lives under the Army than a theocracy.

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  11. wf (374 comments) says:

    From what I can tell, most of the people just want to get on with their struggling lives. I support a small charity active in the Pyramids area, and it seems that the people they have contact with aren’t interested in the recent upheavals – they are just trying to earn some money (somehow) to feed their families.
    The unrest has made it more difficult, with tourist numbers (especially the foreign ones) almost non-existent.

    ” . . ..Egyptian citizens have a better chance of living normal lives under the Army than a theocracy.”

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  12. unaha-closp (1,115 comments) says:

    Emma manages to write a piece about Egypt – including reference to Morsi and conclude that the suppression of democratic freedoms is for the best – without mentioning once the religion.

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  13. Steve Wrathall (243 comments) says:

    That’s right. Bemoaning the situation in an unfortunate part of the world without ever mentioning by name the ideology that has been shaping this unfortunateness for 1500 years is part and parcel to being a good dhimmi.

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  14. Jinky (171 comments) says:

    Was in Cairo twice in 2012(before Morsi). Lovely place, loads of history, people were friendly. Stayed in western style hotel first time (could have been anywhere in the world) and a Muslim run one on second visit. great service for most of the time but the entire staff would disappear at prayer times??!!. No booze either which was a real shock to the system. Cops and customs folk entirely corrupt. The local women (especially those in full burqa) were very keen to speak to my wife and daughter whenever their husbands left them alone. Traffic there is as bad as I’ve seen anywhere. Touts/beggars no worse than Hong Kong.

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  15. Yogibear (296 comments) says:

    IGM

    I will note one thing in terms of culture – Egypt is the culture that gave us beer.

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  16. Fentex (867 comments) says:

    The only time I have enjoyed forceful haggling was visiting the Bazaar in Istanbul – there I entered into the spirit for since my youth it’s been an exotic place of wheeling and dealing in my mind.

    But elsewhere, and on the streets, it can be so tiresome. In Indonesia once I found two Swiss women would not leave a hotel I was at for fear of the street touts and beggars and it left them with a poor opinion of the region. They were there as travel agents exploring cheap deals, so probably a very counter-productive result for everyone in the country.

    It’s hard to hold peoples determined efforts to succeed against odds against them, it tends to leave me angry at the circumstance that makes the hard scratched pittance that could be extracted from tourists worth the effort.

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  17. Dean Papa (743 comments) says:

    Egypt, like Italy, is a country that is now a pale shadow of its former glory.

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  18. chiz (1,119 comments) says:

    Scott:

    As they have found you can bring in democracy, have democratic elections and the majority of the people, whose organising principle is Islam, will elect an Islamist theocratic government that will immediately abolish democracy.

    The reason a majority of the population voted for Morsi wasn’t that they wanted an islamist government – it was that they wanted to get rid of Mubarak and his military allies. Many of the people who voted for Morsi didn’t really like him or want him, but they pinched their noses and voted for him because they liked the other candidate even less. Quite a few people who voted for Morsi have now admitted that they were wrong and that the MB was worse than they dreamed of and that they should have voted for the other guy.

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  19. CharlieBrown (910 comments) says:

    The nazi’s were voted in – although under dubios circumstances. We are demoractic fanatics. Under democracy the will of the people can do what it wants to the minority no matter how abhorent. We try to force democracy onto countries where the average person cannot read, let along make an informed decision when voting.

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  20. stephieboy (2,196 comments) says:

    Kea (10,388 comments) says:
    February 7th, 2014 at 9:12 am

    Morsi installed by the USA.?
    Again , as always , your evidence..?
    The world’s biggest Christian country.?
    Now that might not be Russia by chance.?

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  21. allgoodal (14 comments) says:

    If negotiating ones way through aggressive touts is the worst one can expect in Egypt then I guess it’s safe to go there and cross it off ones bucket list of must do tourist destinations. Thank god for the military coup eh

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